Safe unloading of stone or other heavy slabs
WorkSafe is reminding employers about controlling risks associated with hazardous manual handling in the construction and manufacturing industries.
In October 2019, an employee was seriously injured when they were crushed by a falling 3m x 2m kitchen island stone slab. The stone slab ('slab') weighed approximately 250-280kg.
The incident happened when two employees were unloading and installing stone slabs at a residential construction site. The slabs were attached to an A-frame that was loaded on the tray of a utility vehicle provided by the employer. The general work practice at the time was:
- for all slabs to be handled manually, and
- for larger, heavier slabs, an additional installer was brought in from another site to assist with manually handling the slabs
Before the incident, the employees asked for an extra person to assist them due to the size and weight of the slab. The employer did not provide an extra person and, feeling pressured to complete the job without extra assistance, the two employees began to unload the slab from the A-frame.
As the employees unclamped the slab, it fell from the A-frame and landed on one employee. The employee's back was crushed by the weight of the slab and they were paralysed.
Hazardous manual handling can create health and safety risks to employees by increasing the chance of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) or injury. The fall shadow and high force associated with manually handling heavy slabs increases the chance of serious injury.
Other safety issues may include:
- inadequate systems in place for the safe handling of heavy items
- inadequate risk management processes
- lack of site preparation or limited or unsafe access for unloading deliveries, eg unloading slabs on uneven ground or in narrow or cluttered spaces
- failure to provide mechanical aids, eg a vehicle-mounted crane
- psychosocial hazards, such as high job demands with pressure to 'get the job done' or lack of support by management and supervisors
Recommendations to control risks
To reduce the risk of MSD and serious injury from hazardous manual handling of stone slabs and similar items, employers should:
- ensure sites are prepared for delivery, including clear space for safe access and unloading as close as possible to the installation site
- ensure 'fit for purpose' mechanical aids like lifting devices and trolleys are provided and used for all high risk manual handling tasks (see pictures below)
- review and inspect mechanical aids at regular intervals, to ensure that they are in good working order, fit for purpose and suited to the task
- ensure that enough time, resources and support are available for every job
- only if mechanical aids are not practicable, ensure that enough employees are available and risk management processes are in place to safely manually handle large and heavy items like slabs
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. Health includes psychological health
- provide and maintain plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
- ensure employees are given information, instruction, training or supervision on how to identify manual handling hazards and safely operate plant
- identify any hazardous manual handling and control associated risks. This means applying a risk assessment and risk management process to identify all potential hazards
- control the risks by eliminating the risk of MSD associated with hazardous manual handling in the workplace. Where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable. This may require more than one control measure to ensure all the risks are controlled. Any control measures must be reviewed, and should be revised as necessary